Arcata Eye Scene

A-town art, music, theatre. Mostly music. Updated Wednesdays.

Too cool for Maximum Rock’n’Roll

Here’s what they said, “wasn’t punk enough.” What do you think, dear readers?

When the truth about Humboldt gets naked, you’ll see it’s nuts.

 Written by Daniel Lewis 

I first heard of the Humboldt music scene from letters and c.d.’s my girlfriend, now my wife, Rachel sent me while I was doing time in South Georgia. At that point she had just graduated from college and was working at a bar called the Alibi and would tell me about all these insane bands and crazy characters who worked within the music scene and how it all was working out. At that point in time it seemed like just another lunatic myth with a bad ass soundtrack to fuel it’s charms. It was the sort of Fairy Tale land that makes you itch and giggle from the punch of enchantment, and vomit with worry that it couldn’t exist. I was punched and I puked, and now I’m here.     

I guess the best way to describe the Eureka/Arcata scene would be to say that it thrives. It flexes its muscles and puts its chest out and moves forward like a bullet riddled mad man, falling at times but only to get up and keep pushing forward and not for any reason other than because its in love with what it does.  The people who work within the scene to book shows and ensure that all goes well at the venues often do it on a volunteer basis. Regardless of the genre of music, whether it’s punk, metal, or just some good rocking, if something goes wrong, whether big or small, there will be someone, or some other organization, to help out. It is definitely understood that it takes more than one cog to turn a wheel, and honestly, when these people and organizations come together it’s like the wheel becomes Voltron and kicks the crap out of whatever obstacle in its way.

A very influential part of this hodgepodge of DIY rock your face off enthusiasts is the Humboldt Free Radio Alliance. The H.F.R.A. has been broadcasting in Humboldt county for at least a decade, promoting corporate free air waves as well as booking shows at various venues such as the Alibi and Big Pete’s Pizzeria in Arcata and Aunty Mo’s Lounge in Eureka. They have also released a 10 track compilation album featuring bands all the way from Bellingham, Wa. To San Diego, Ca.The entire operation is ran and funded on a volunteer basis by the stations D.J.’s who not only offer their time spinning an extremely wide range of music but also give their time to work the doors or whatever else is needed at venues.

Though the pirates at H.F.R.A. have a great standing with the locals, the FCC have other feelings about their intent and have repeatedly sought to shut down the operation with cease and desist warrants only to fuel the fires of free radio further and allowing the D.J.’s a nice vacation before regrouping at another location and beginning their broadcast once again. At times it takes the support of the community, which is usually in the form of a benefit show where fans and musicians have the opportunity to come together for the common good and raise money to purchase any confiscated equipment or other necessary funds to guarantee the stability of and safety of our local air waves. It’s not only the locals nor themselves that H.F.R.A. is concerned with, however. They also raise money for other causes, most recently including the Metal band Middian from Eugene, Oregon who have had legal troubles over the use of their name.The details are too much to go into, and I can’t report how it’s gone since, but when it comes to standing up and speaking out, it’s comforting to know people like H.F.R.A. are on our side.

Another hero amongst the patrons of rock here in the area is the Placebo, more officially known as the Humboldt County Youth Arts Program. The history of the Placebo sounds like old world gypsy folk tale, where a band of traveling artists are repeatedly moved and removed from housing. Dao, a woman who has roots in the Placebos founding developers, the 924 Gilman Street Project in North Berkley says about the many moves they have had to make in order to meet city and district codes  “There has been very little stability. I think that Eureka can be a great place. We just found a great place and just as fast got shut down. We moved in there in the summer of 2006 and then by January it was closed again.”

Founded by two HSU students in the spring of 1999, the Placebo provides a place for young people to see live music in an atmosphere that is both drug and alcohol free and as well intolerant to bigotries such as racism, sexism, and small-minded jerk off fanaticisms from those who just want to destroy venues and act like asses.

But still the Placebo persists, keeping their equipment at a near by venue called Synapses and having shows at the Ink People, who are the parent organization of Empire Square, Synapses, and the Placebo.”

The Placebo reached the 501(c) (e) status in 2001 and began the official HCYAP title for its non profit work. “You can do a lot more with Non Profit status.” Dao admits “We are covered by the Ink Peoples insurance which helps with renting out spaces to have shows.”

Being that the Placebo was just again getting geared up for 2008 I had to wonder where it was all going. ” Having a steady place. That’s the dream.” She says. “Shows are really important and if we have regular shows then we can put on regular workshops. Workshops are general, a lot of art workshops. Stenciling and screening, how to fix your guitar. But what the Placebo really is what the volunteers bring to it. We have punk shows because the punks come put the shows on. We could have country shows! We are open to anything. But it’s up to the volunteers to make it happen.”

The volunteers are required to meet certain standards of etiquette (such as if someone is doing something that would jeopardize the rented venue Don’t call the cops! And don’t try to man handle them. TALK to them.) and are assigned duties that range from making and passing out fliers to patrolling the perimeters outside of the venues to ensure that the areas are clear of any pending harm that would result in the loss of much needed spaces for all ages shows.

Already there have been incidents of individuals scrawling on walls and general vandalizing of an art gallery that was rented out, but fortunately the Placebo is both patient and tolerant and are gearing up for a massive year with includes, but is not exclusive to its Punx Prom with La Plebe and a ball busting mega romper with Boston’s Mouth Sewn Shut and Holland’s Fleas and Lice.

The Accident Gallery is hosting most of these shows for now, but the Placebo is still looking for a steady venue. Hopefully people will be able to resist the urge to scrawl profanity on art while we wait. But, even if not, as I described earlier, the scene has a way of looking out for its self, regardless of whatever odds it may face it tends to survive and even come out better for the wear each time.

This is hardly the end of the realm of DIY organizations, in fact, it’s hardly the beginning, the Coffee Opp, All Ages Alliance, and Humboldt Metal Productions are all active in and around the Eureka/Arcata area. But, there is no real way to distinguish these organizations from the individuals who work without any direct association other then the love for music.

For me, the greatest thing about our scene is the diversity. I personally feel like this has a lot to do with the community’s geographical location. Set so close around farms and forests, the Eureka/Arcata landscape is both close and far enough to the bigger metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Portland to enjoy the freedom from corporate influence while not being too isolated so that everything is boxed in and musically speaking, repetitive. This allows a lot of creative liberation for bands to work with, as well as a straight run on the 101 in whichever direction compels them, to see and do other things while maintaining a very stable home base.

Dragged by Horses is a perfect example of this stability. Having just recorded a new album, “Deep in the Woods” at Jackpot! Studios in Portland and planning a tour of the West coast, they are one of the areas most popular rock bands who have remained extremely humble in their roots and continue to play shows and benefits on a regular basis.

The power metal group Machete is another wonderful addition to our local scene’s tapestry. Their new album, “Dirty Piggy”, was recently recorded at the Big Bang studio in Arcata and was mastered by Mos Generators Tony Reed and truly showcases some of the amazing talent that can be found in Humboldt. The combination of Roshawn  Beere’s  (from the legendary ranks of the Hitch,) cataclysmic bass lines and Jed Watts (Mr. Bungle, Vast, and the Apocalyptic Music Brigade) pounding drums on top of insane guitar riffs and monstrously metal growls and screams, this is a band worth getting excited about. Dubbing themselves, “Rock Gods of Humboldt County”, may not be such a far stretch of the imagination, though truthfully there is quite a bit of competition for those ranks.

Something that I find extremely interesting about the Eureka/Arcata scene is that regardless of the differences between the two cities, there is a bond and obvious respect for all different genres. You can see a band like Machete, who are more on the Eureka side of the spectrum, which is more the heavier gut metal, at the same venue and on the same night as you see a band like Side Iron, who are more of a Honky Tonk n’ Roll ensemble from Arcata. The diversity of the area speaks loudly through this band who utilize a lap steel guitar in a way that meshes so cleverly with the grit and gruff of the music that it’s hard to tell if it would be as welcome without it. And this is coming from a guy who grew up in Tennessee and is deathly frightened of steel guitars and phobic of anything “twangy.”

Another great and varied line up I was able to encounter was at a benefit show for H.F.R.A. The bill was the Fire Demons, a duo of mad men Robert “EYEPROD” Tripp, and Jeff “LEFTOVERKING” Langdon, ( another ex-Hitch member) who play the kind of metal/punk/psychedelic kick you in the ass music that you’d expect if I told you “Yeah, they have an awesome song about people who wear capes.”  The Fire Demons are complete DIY fanatics. Promotions, recordings, bookings, and merch are all handled by them personally. And they have an awesome song about people who wear capes.

Also on this bill, were Arcata’s Nipplepotamus who are pretty much the type of musical trio that could have come out of Seattle’s Sub Pop glory Days only with a better sense of humor and more affinity for nipples. Not that I have anything to judge that statement on, but these guys are really into Nipples and aliens and dressing up like cowboys. With that said they really put on a great show, and it’s easy to see that they’re not ever trying very hard to do it. It’s a very natural event. Like nipple hair.

Last, but definitely not least, were the Baby Arms. Hailing from Eureka of the Damned! This band is punk. Perhaps this should be capitalized. THIS BAND IS PUNK. Socially conscious with a funny bone sticking out of it’s tiny little Baby Arm and a beer soaked bib to boot, this is one of the most exciting and intense bands around. It’s just great music with great attitude and talent. It’s a rare commodity to see a band this live and this loud (and this drunk) play this good. But when they bring it they really bring it. And the people love it.

This is the kind of show you are most liable to see at a venue around the area. A great mixing of genres and personality that all have a common purpose and that is just to hear some good music. Whether that implies moshing the floor up or sitting back with a cold beer and banging up the cranium for a spell, it all comes together nicely in the end.

The punk scene has recently seen a great rising in its female allies with the bands Sick Bitch, a femme fatale foursome meaner than Ani DiFranco’s vagina on steroids and Kill the Switch, a trio of Hardcore Feminist Puck rocking young ladies who, along side of Sick Bitch, brought the house down the last time La Plebe was in town and truly made a name for themselves.

The punk scene is definitely alive and well, the Social Ills are another hardcore punk band from Eureka that have been tearing up the scene since 2006, and will be playing at the Placebos Punk Prom this April.

Another attraction to the Eureka/Arcata hardcore night life is Force fed Trauma who’s 2006 album Enslaved in Hatred, is a much needed addition to any local metal collection. Recorded on Hangnail records, this is just a damn fine piece of chopped up body parts indeed and seeing them live is even better.

Humboldt Metal promotions, a completely DIY non profit promoter for hardcore/death metal and punk bands has been keeping the area well endowed with the finest in metal since 2005 and is continuing it’s ear ravaging antics to this day booking and promoting such local acts as Locust Furnace, Cycle of Violence, Phist, and has brought in bands like Deeds of Flesh and Severed Saviour.

There’s no way to truly describe the scene here. It’s an understanding between the promoters, bands, and fans that there is a need for rock. A need to rock. So it happens. It will keep on happening. That’s Humboldt.

All of these bands, venues, and organizations are available for your voyeuristic tendencies on myspace, but really you should just stop wasting your time with that and and come on down here and buy me a drink. All this writing has made me thirsty. 




  Hank Sims wrote @

Just the other day, someone mentioned to me that Maximum Rock’n’Roll was still around. I seriously could not believe it.

I haven’t seen it in the last five years — maybe — 10 years, so maybe they’ve had some great renaissance recently. Last time I did see it, though, it was way past its sell-by date. Positively curdled.

  greg wrote @


CometBus is still being published, too. Just saw a copy at Northtown Books.

Why pay for MRR when there are a million blogs online? Seriously, it’s easier to find Hindu metal bands online than find a copy of MRR, and few bands have as much of a DIYer-than-thou attitude as MRR.


  dao wrote @

Thanks for trying, Daniel. Not your fault MRR has identity issues.

Couple corrections:

1) The Ink People has 501c3 status which is the only sort of non-profit for which you can write off your donations.

2) We’re having most of our shows at the Ink People, not the AG. We can’t really afford the AG.

Update re. the Ink People space: Things have been going well since the incident you talk about (which was ungood but fairly contained and mostly a result of rambunctiousness rather than ill intent.) People coming out for shows have been very respectful of the venue and our few rulez.

See y’all at Punk Prom!

  Doug wrote @

thats punk ok, I am currently travelling so, for this reason, I’ve nothing better to do than surf for music blogs, more or less anyway. I’m bookmarking you for future reference thank you for your valued point of view, keep feeding the creativity

  daniel wrote @ let ’em know what you think.

  Dre wrote @

MRR can suck our sweaty balls!

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